Photo by Anna Shvets on

On This Covid Pandemic

The Chinese had a phrase for it –
‘May you live in interesting times.’
Double- edged, somewhat inscrutable,
As I read between its lines.

Intended as a curse it is said;
Perhaps we’re paying for our crimes?
As we live this life not led before –
Perdition’s paradigm.

My Chinese Mudmen




Death brought to Life  –
here lies
the ambiguity

Wrought by ancient toil
hands in the dirt
my Men of Clay
contemplative figures
moulded figurines
idle idols
progenitors of
Gormley’s Field
still still
after all these years

The thoughts
of uncounted
peasant potters
death to life
life to death
the artisan’s role
a messy resurrection
now paraded
amongst my books
in my own milieu
a lesson
for my assimilation

Dead as the earth is dead
alive as the wet oriental soil
of their conception
the kiln heat
of their birth

Chilling sentiment
glazed eyes recalling
the potter’s hands
remembering the gnarled
and knotted tension
in their birth

The hope of yesterday
the stillness of today
The meaning of tomorrow



For many centuries Chinese artisans have created clay figurines to accompany their miniature bonsai gardens and aquaria. Such miniature landscape creations were known as Pen’Jing.  These artefacts were individually created by hand from local clays and fired with a low temperature lead glaze, usually in green, blue or yellow.  Faces, hands and feet were often left unglazed, allowing the natural colour of the mud to show.  Such small-scale figurines were generally termed Mudmen.  They were made in many village farming communities when,  following the rice harvest, and the onset of the dry season, locals turned to the production of figures using the local clay. They were often of standing or seated fishermen, mystics, musicians, occasionally women, sages and old wise men, holding books, axes, flutes, scrolls, pots, fish and other objects in common use often of some mystical importance.

Over subsequent years such objects became of importance, particularly following the European fashion of seeking out oriental pottery and sculptural artefacts.  The genuinely old and individually hand-made mudmen figurines are nowadays highly sought after and fetch high market prices.  In more recent years however, modern versions of these mudmen figurines, which most, if not all, of those in my photographs are, have been mass produced and are not of any great value.


See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil


The Three Monkeys – From right to left – ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil’   (Photo – WHB)

A fuller description of the story of ‘The Three Monkeys’ and of the various interpretations of the maxim ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil‘ is given following the poem below.  The idea for my verses was prompted by my acquisition of the above figurine, and are an attempt to get inside the mind of someone with secrets to keep.  I deny any relationship between my versified thoughts and my own reality.



“Ask no secrets, please”;
“Tell no lies indeed”;
For if you break these rules,
Then hearts will blanch and bleed.

“Never tell a secret”
Or so the saying goes.
So hold on to that rule.
Never the facts disclose. 

“Your secret’s safe with me”
I’ve heard that said before.
It never is the case;
They always ask for more.

“I won’t tell if you won’t”
I said that as a child,
But what I had to hide then
Was relatively mild.

# # #

But now life is more complex;
I have more sins to hide.
Such damning indiscretions
I never could confide.

My secrets, now I’m older,
Are surely on the rise.
‘T would border on disaster;
To tell would not be wise.

The priest in all his wisdom
Receives confession now.
I cannot dare to tell him
Of  lapses in my vows.

# # #

But then, again, I wonder
What life would mean to me,
If all my peccadilloes
Were there for all to see.

Perhaps they’d view my sins
As Walter Mitty copies.
As venial casual slip-ups,
As minor paltry follies.

As commonplace as foibles;
As lethal as a pin.
Hardly ‘mea culpa’
And not Original Sin.

# # #

If others think them simple,
Not worthy of reflection,
Still to me they’re weighty
And threaten with detection.

I ask these questions blithely;
I truly want to know.
Do you have secret longings
That you will never show?

That you will never tell;
And let no one discover;
Let no one even guess
You’ve got a secret lover?

I would tempt fate and listen
To what you say and feel,
But I really fear the outcome
Of what your heart conceals.

Such secrets are forbidden
To all but you and me;
Unknown to friend or rival,
 And that’s how it should be.

# # #

Please keep your secrets from me;
We say we’ll never lie.
We tried to keep that promise,
To keep it till we die.

But when  with life we’re parting
We’ll lay them at our feet.
Our secrets are the same now –
No more, no more, deceit.

So only at the end
When all regrets must cease,
Perhaps we’ll be permitted
To find a kind of Peace.

# # #


“The Three Monkeys” embody, in a proverb, the maxims  “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.  In the Japanese representation of the story, the three monkeys are Mizaru, covering his eyes, Kikazaru, covering his ears, and Iwazaru, covering his mouth.

The story has origins in both China and in Japan.  Both cultures have versions of the story, although its history is particularly significant in Japan.  The photograph immediately below is of one of the original depictions  of ‘The Three Monkeys’ at the Toshogu Shrine at Nikko, Honshu. Japan.


There are many different interpretations of the story of the Three Monkeys and of the maxims which they embody.

It can be read as offering maxims by which the young should be taught to deal with the world – in innocence, not giving prominence to hearsay, tittle-tattle, rumour or obloquy.  Do not dwell on evil thoughts.

For others, the story proposes the turning of a blind eye to wrong-doings and misdemeanours.  It can encourage the keeping of secrets to oneself, the denying of moral responsibility, and even withdrawing from reality.




Mouldy Old DOUGH

Mouldy Old DOUGH’

Some will remember that this was the title of a song which, in October of 1972,  spent four weeks at the top of the UK singles chart.  The words were not hard to remember as this was purely an instrumental, performed by  Lieutenant Pigeon, an English music  group from Coventry. (YouTube video below)  . . .

The title “Mouldy Old Dough”, despite thinking it could well be a dedication to bakery workers everywhere,  was apparently given to it as an adaptation of the 1920s jazz phrase, “vo-de-o-do”. I remember the song being a favourite of mine at the time with its catchy jazzy feel and a solid beat which made it great to dance to.

I had completely forgotten the song until I recently came across some old home-grown dough sculptures.  One in particular, had been left for a long time in a damp garage.  The edges were badly affected, but I resurrected it as best I could.  Truly ‘mouldy old dough’!


Making Salt Dough Sculptures is a fun activity for both children and adults.   The shapes and designs are limited only by your imagination!  As a stay-at-home hobby, making works of art from simple baking materials, can be a simple yet rewarding venture.

Such dough figurines have been present in Chinese culinary culture for many centuries, but to find out more about how to go about it, or just to view samples of the art, then an on-line search will reveal countless examples.   Below are two more of the same batch of home-grown models – both of which have survived in better condition than the bathroom scene . . .

A recommended blog, which will take you step-by-step through the creative process can be found at: